NFL Combine Storylines to Watch (Fantasy Football)
The popularity of fantasy football and dynasty leagues has grown so much that there is no real offseason anymore. The NFL Combine, largely ignored in the past, has become a huge part of the yearly football schedule not only for NFL personnel but also now for amateur draftniks.
Every year the Combine attracts more and more attention, and that certainly holds true for the 2018 version. Following official measurements and interviews, the on-field workout portions of the Combine are now broadcast live on television and have become must-see events for fantasy football fanatics.
The 2018 class is shaping up to be strong among the skill position players, so interest in the events that will transpire in Indianapolis are particularly high this offseason. Let’s take a look at some of the headlines and stories that you’ll want to monitor during the Combine.
Is Lamar Jackson a franchise quarterback or wide receiver?
Jackson is a phenom who twice finished as a top-10 rusher in the nation while playing quarterback. That dual-threat ability and Jackson’s throwing motion have drawn favorable comparisons to Michael Vick. Jackson is a bit thin at 200 pounds, which would make it hard for him to stay healthy if he’s constantly escaping the pocket as a runner. As a thrower, Jackson’s mechanics need a bit of work and there were some accuracy concerns that could be alleviated with coaching and technique.
We know Jackson is going to run a blazing 40-yard dash, but what we need to see is how he looks taking snaps under center and dropping back. If he can consistently complete short and intermediate routes to an unfamiliar group of receivers, Jackson could cement his status as a potential franchise-caliber signal-caller and first-round pick, but don’t expect him to entertain any of the controversies that he should convert to wide receiver.
Josh Allen has to overcome accuracy woes
Like Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen is a good athlete who comes with accuracy concerns, but the general consensus is that Allen has the higher ceiling as a passer thanks to a huge arm and gunslinger mentality. Allen (six-foot-five, 233 pounds) certainly looks the part and is expected to have good measurables and perform well in drills.
Allen has taken some snaps under center, which should help him. But with a career completion percentage of just 56.2 percent against a Mountain West schedule, it will be vital for Allen to consistently connect on outs, slants and timing routes at the Combine to convince a QB-needy team that he can live up to the considerable upside.
Saquon Barkley’s 40-yard dash time
There’s no denying that Barkley is immensely talented and will be selected early in the first round. The only question remaining is how high will he go? Barkley is an amazing runner with terrific lateral movement and he’s also a phenomenal receiver. He’s going to be a three-down stud and profiles to be a better prospect than Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette, who both were top-five selections in each of the past two drafts.
Barkley will be one of the most watched athletes on display this week, but he can really help his case to go in the top-five if he can run a sub 4.4 40-yard dash time, which he has done in the past. That kind of top-level speed combined with Barkley’s size and skill set would put him in play for the No. 1 overall pick and would also be tempting for the Giants and Colts.
Which mid-round RB can emerge?
While this is considered a tremendous running back class, today’s NFL doesn’t necessarily mean that teams will spend the draft capital on a position that has been de-emphasized. In fact, knowing that they can find plenty of value late in this draft, we might see running backs slip further back as NFL general managers try to focus on thinner positions of need and hope to find talented runners later in the draft. Looking back at the most recent NFL playoff participants proves this strategy works if you can find the right player.
On a recent episode of the Fantasy Pros Podcast, Mike Tagliere and guest Sigmund Bloom did a great job breaking down some of the running backs that can emerge as difference makers in the later rounds, including Tennessee’s John Kelly and Kalen Ballage out of Arizona State.
Other running backs currently projected to go on Day Two or later that fantasy football fans will want to monitor include Ronald Jones II (USC), Kerryon Johnson (Auburn), Rashaad Penny (San Diego St.), Royce Freeman (Oregon), and a pair of undersized pass-catching specialists in Mark Walton (Miami), and Akrum Wadley (Iowa).
Who will emerge at wide receiver?
Heading into the 2017 Combine, JuJu Smith-Schuster was considered one of the favorites to be the first wideout off the board but he ended up slipping to the 62nd pick. John Ross famously blazed a record 4.22 40-yard dash in Indianapolis and became the name du jour.
That didn’t exactly work out too well and there’s no real consensus on which wide receiver is most likely to emerge in 2018. The 40-yard dash is an important element for receivers, but the gauntlet drill also gives a great indication of hands and concentration. So what wide receivers can make a case to be first-round selections with a strong Combine showing?
Calvin Ridley (Alabama) is a bit thin but can really fly and excels as a route runner. Ridley should perform very well across the board and profiles as the next great Alabama wideout.
Courtland Sutton (SMU) has impressive size (six-foot-four, 216) and leaping ability and can really help his cause if he can run a sub 4.5 40-yard-dash.
James Washington (Oklahoma State) is a big-time vertical threat who scored 13 touchdowns for the Cowboys in 2017 and averaged just under 21 yards-per-catch.
Michael Gallup (Colorado State) does many things well and continued to get better at Colorado State. He could be a surprise pick if he performs well at all Combine drills.
D.J. Moore (Maryland) is a favorite of the fantasy football Twitter community and is an under-the-radar prospect who could gain a lot of momentum with a strong showing in Indianapolis and at his pro day.
Also, check out some of the other underrated wide receivers that fantasy football fans will want to monitor throughout the combine.
Who is the top tight end?
This isn’t considered a great tight end class and there isn’t a consensus on which player is the top option, or if any of these players warrant first-round considerations. If there were a Vegas line on tight ends that are selected in Round One, 0.5 would probably get a lot of action on the under.
Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State) has drawn Zach Ertz comps for his receiving ability, which will certainly appeal to teams that actually know how to use their tight ends as downfield receiving threats and don’t mind his blocking deficiencies.
Hayden Hurst (South Carolina) spent two years pitching in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization before walking on to South Carolina. Hurst is a little more polished as a blocker but is a very good receiver. However, Hurst will turn 25 on August 24, so that could affect his value.
Penn State’s Mike Gesicki is moving up mock draft boards due to his great size (six-foot-six, 250 pounds), athleticism, and receiving prowess. Like Dallas Goedert, Gesicki offers little as an in-line blocker, so he will be targeted by teams looking to utilize him as a downfield receiver that can open up an offense and be a real mismatch against linebackers.
Mark Andrews (Oklahoma) was generally regarded as the top tight end in the nation but comes with some medical concerns that teams will need to address in the opening days of the Combine. Andrews follows the recurring theme of light-blocking, excellent receivers in the 2018 class of tight ends.